February 19, 2020

Grabovski signing allows Caps to be creative with line combos

The Washington Capitals move to bring in center Mikhail Grabovski this week will send ripples down – and maybe even up – the Caps active roster, and may even prevent a top prospect from breaking camp with the team. But the bottom line is that they are better equipped today to deal with the rigors of an 82-game schedule than they were when the free agency period opened up, or perhaps at any point last season.

Grabovski has strong puck-possession numbers for his career and makes players around him better. The numbers are there to consider, if math doesn’t scare you. In fact, his puck-possession numbers are so much better than the player he takes the place of, the departed Mike Ribeiro (or anyone else on the Caps’ current roster that could fill the second-line center position) that the upgrade in that area should make the loss of Ribeiro’s supreme passing skills negligible.

For the sake of this discussion, we’re going to assume Caps GM George McPhee and Marcus Johansson’s representatives work out a deal to bring the slick-skating Swede back into the fold. There isn’t a whole lot of cap space available after Karl Alzner’s new deal and Grabo’s contract, but there still is some dead weight McPhee can trim to fir Johansson into the salary structure.

So, even though D.C. is still under a blanket of summer humidity and the chill of Kettler’s air conditioning for training camp doesn’t start for a few weeks, let’s take a look at how some of the line combinations might work with the addition of the Caps newest play-driving center.

Here’s a handy infographic of my interpretation of the Caps lines and we’ll discuss them below.

LW

C

RW

Marcus Johansson

Nick Backstrom

Alex Ovechkin

Martin Erat

Mikhail Grabovski

Troy Brouwer

Jason Chimera

Brooks Laich

Joel Ward

Mathieu Perreault

Jay Beagle

Eric Fehr

Aaron Volpatti

Michael Latta

Tom Wilson

Brandon Segal

I think the top line is set in stone, with the caveat that McPhee gets Johansson under contract, something he indicated in his press conference Friday morning was still in the works, but that the right deal had to get done. It will get done.

The second line, as constructed here, should be a quality second scoring option for the Caps this upcoming season. Erat had a rough go of it at the end of last season, not really fitting in immediately after the trade, then getting hurt and missing out on the playoffs. But he’s a quality skater with good hands and should bounce back with solid – and regular – linemates. Troy Brouwer, on the other side, is coming off a real nice season goal-scoring wise. His 19 goals (in just 47 games in the lockout-shortened season) were second most in his career and should find many more quality opportunities at regular strength with this group.

The third line is the “lunchpail” group. If Laich is indeed going to play center, he profiles much better on the third line with similar grinders than he does in the top six where he would be expected to contribute more to scoring. With Chimera’s speed, and the work ethic of the three across the board, this line should see plenty of ice time against the top lines in the newly formed Metropolitan Division. In addition, Laich and Ward should see top duty on the penalty kill as well, and grouping them together on a skating line makes more sense than breaking the two apart on different lines.

The fourth line becomes something of a mish-mash though. Of the veterans available to pick from, Mathieu Perreault and Eric Fehr profile more as scorers than fourth line muckers. At least, that’s their pedigree. Jay Beagle is a defense first (and only) center and isn’t really the best pivot for the other two. But all have established themselves as NHL players and it would be surprising to see any left off the team in favor of the players in the next group – unless a player is moved between now and the start of camp, which is entirely possible considering the logjam of forwards and the salary cap ramifications.

Aaron Volpatti and Brandon Segal are fourth-line journeymen. Both are relatively capable in their low-leverage assignments but have very limited ceilings and should be valued as such. Michael Latta, the other player acquired with Erat in exchange for top prospect Filip Forsberg, can play. Just 22, he brings skill and toughness and carries himself bigger than his 6’0, 213 frame.

Many would like to see Tom Wilson, the 19-year-old  6’4″, 210 winger the Caps called up during the playoffs to add toughness against the New York Rangers, make the team out of camp. But the Caps seem to have enough depth now that they don’t have to have him in D.C. this season.

Eventually, Beagle, Latta and Wilson could combine to form a formidable and punishing fourth line for this organization, something that the team has been missing since the Bradley-Steckel-Gordon combo was broken up several seasons ago.

With the addition of Grabovski, the Capitals now have better forward depth and multiple choices of how to line up those forwards. Before, forcing Laich into a second line role caused second-guessing and questions throughout the line-up. This team might not have moved to the top of the list of Stanley Cup candidates with the acquisition of one second line center, but it certainly made for a more solid NHL roster from top to bottom – at least from the aspect of the forward lines.

Capitals add veteran center Mikhail Grabovski

The Washington Capitals announced Friday morning the signing of center Mikhail Grabovski to a one-year, $3 million deal. Grabovski, 29, had 16 points (nine goals, seven assists) and 24 PIMs in 48 tumultuous games with Toronto last season. In 2011-12, the Belorussian center recorded 23 goals and 28 assists with the Leafs, ranking third in both categories.

“Mikhail adds speed and offense to our lineup, and we are very pleased to have him sign with the Capitals,” said Caps GM George McPhee through a team press release. “We believe he will be an excellent addition to our club.”

Grabovski fills a void left by the departure of Mike Ribeiro, who signed with the Phoenix Coyotes immediately after the free agent period opened last month.

As our friends over at Russian Machine and Japers Rink so aptly and thoroughly described, Grabovski might not put up top-of-the-leaderboard point totals, but he is particularly adept at driving play and making players around him better, and will help the Capitals tremendously in puck possession from the second line center position, theoretically lining up with Martin Erat and Troy Brouwer.

Grabovski’s arrival will have a ripple effect throughout the Caps lineup. It allows coach Adam Oates to slide Brooks Laich into the 3C slot, a much more natural position for him and a more comfortable grouping with Joel Ward, a fellow penalty killer, and Jason Chimera on the wings.

The signing does not come without warning though. Grabovski has had his share of on- and off-ice problems, including a feud with Randy Carlyle, his coach last season, that saw his role and ice time diminish, resulting in the Leafs buying out Grabovski under the contract amnesty clause of the CBA once the season finished.

But his arrival in Washington provides Grabovski with a clean slate, and considering his age, experience and contract status, he should be plenty motivated this season to play hard, keep his nose clean, and put up good numbers in order to secure a long-term contract once the season ends, whether he’s retained here in D.C. or he hits the open market once again.

Grabovski is scheduled to meet the Caps press this afternoon via teleconference, and District Sports Page will update this story as more information becomes available.

Nationals trade Suzuki back to Oakland

Kurt Suzuki expressed his dislike with the 1B ump's call in 1st inning (Allen Craig reaches on a missed catch error by first baseman Chad Tracy) -  St. Louis Cardinals v. Washington Nationals, 9/02/2012. (Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Kurt Suzuki in action in September 2012. (Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

According to this Washington Times article, the Washington Nationals have traded catcher Kurt Suzuki to the team they acquired him from, the Oakland Athletics, in exchange for an unnamed prospect.

In 78 games this season, Suzuki hit .223/.284/.311 with just three home runs and has been a man missing in action since Wilson Ramos’ return from the disabled list.

The A’s, in post-season contention, have dealt with a string of injuries to their catching corps. Starter John Jaso has been out over a month with concussion symptoms and Derek Norris injured his toe the other day and is destined for the disabled list.

The Nats will need to activate a catcher to back up Ramos and the most likely candidate is Jhonatan Solano.

Suzuki had a team option for next season, but at $8.5 million, the Nats were not likely to pick up that option. It remains to be seen the player the Nats will receive for Suzuki, but if they knew they would let him walk, at least they were able to get a return for him.

This also might signal the team’s acceptance that the Nats aren’t going to contend for postseason play this season. Manager Davey Johnson has been working Tyler Moore and a few others into the lineup on a platoon basis lately, so the team is entering the evaluation phase for next season it appears.

Washington Capitals GM George McPhee on NHL Free Agency: “We Stayed Away.”

Washington Capitals GM George McPhee met the media Monday on the first day of Development Camp. His most intriguing comments came right up front when asked about the NHL Free Agent signing period, and the Caps reluctance to enter the market for a second-line center with the departure of Mike Ribeiro to Arizona on a four-year deal.

McPhee was up-front in his assessment, stating that he wasn’t impressed with the players available. And for those few that the Caps did take interest in, he wasn’t impressed with the contract demands.

“We didn’t think it was a great class of players,” McPhee said from Kettler Capitals Iceplex. “Not a great pool of players to invest in, so we didn’t. There were a couple of players we had interest in, but when the numbers get the way they were going in terms of salary or term, we stayed away.”

“We didn’t really make any offers, we just knew where they were going,” McPhee continued. “Usually the issue is the term. Salary you can compete with, but when people get into term that’s too long, you can ultimately hurt your competitiveness down the road. We try to avoid that.”

The conversation naturally turned from the free agent crop to the Caps two UFAs they allowed to walk — Ribeiro and Matt Hendricks.

“We made our best offers at the trading deadline, with both of [those] players. We liked both of those guys a lot — as people, as players — but we made our decisions around the trading deadline, in far advance of July 1. You can’t wake up [at the start of the free agency period] and say, ‘What are we going to do?’.”

What McPhee didn’t do is chase either player and sign them to long-term, salary cap crippling deals. Both players signed four-year deals at higher rates than they commanded on their last contract, something the Caps were obviously — and correctly — reluctant to do.

So if the Caps aren’t going to obtain a 2C, who will they turn to in-house? How about their jack-of-all- trades, Brooks Laich? In a perfect world, the Caps would have Laich centering a third line with Jason Chimera and Joel Ward, players whose natural ability might seem to jive better with the lunch-pail Laich.

But McPhee sees Laich as a suitable player to fill the role.

“If you look around the league, it’s a hard position to fill,” McPhee noted. ” How many teams these days have a couple of elite centers? Five or six, maybe? Generally, you need a really good two-way player to play there, which is why we’re looking at Brooks Laich to play there now.”

“We had him there in the playoffs a couple years ago, liked it a lot. He’s a natural center. We think it’s time to  play him. He gives you the size and speed you’re looking for, the good two-way play you’re looking for, the face-offs… we think he’s capable of it. We don’t see any real difference in terms of ability to play between a Brooks and, if you look around the league, a Mike Fisher in Nashville, Mike Richards in L.A. or David Backes in St. Louis. Same type of players.”

Time will tell if McPhee is right. Since Sergei Fedorov left, the Caps have been looking for that elusive second-line center to provide scoring assistance and take some of the burden off their top scoring line. Last year, they finally had that, as Ribeiro turned in what has proved to be a consistently productive season, especially on coach Adam Oates’ revised power play.

What seems certain is that the players the Caps have on their payroll today is the squad they’ll enter camp with. How those players will be deployed is the million dollar question.

But as their opponents in their new division make additions to their roster they feel will help them be better teams, the Caps are obviously, and maybe disappointingly, standing put.

Washington Nationals address bench need; More moves coming?

The Washington Nationals addressed a glaring need Monday, trading for OF Scott Hairston. Hairston historically has had success against left-handed pitching, a skill the Nats are in dire need of off the bench. Secondarily, Hairston is a capable defender at all three outfield positions — another need the Nats have had this season.

Hairston will presumably replace Tyler Moore, a first baseman by trade, as the fourth outfielder and primary right-handed bat off the bench. It’s a long time coming, as Moore has been terrible this season (.151/.283/.478) in 42 games and 113 plate appearances.

Moore projected as a fringe big league player during his minor league career, and his success last season (.263/.327/.513 with 10 homers in 171 PAs) led many to believe that he was going to outperform his projections and be a quality bat off the bench for the Nats this season. What has happened, though, is the league caught up with him and is now exposing every weakness the player exhibited in the minors.

Hairston’s not having a great season, himself. Hitting .172/.232/.434 with eight homers in 112 PAs, he’s in the first of a two-year deal the Cubs gave the 33-year-old this past off-season. Giving a player with Hairston’s age and pedigree a two-year deal is a topic for another day, but the Nats now control Hairston through next season regardless.

Hairston is a career .268/.318/.500 hitter against lefties. That’s not all that spectacular overall and before looking it up I expected those numbers to be much more impressive. We have to go back to 2009 to find a season Hairston OBPd higher than .325 against left-handed pitching. It’s entirely possible Hairston’s career is in the wind-down phase, but he’s capable of punishing a mistake, as his 20 homers in 398 PAs in 2012 is testament to.

The Nats bench was exposed this year as injuries mounted. Moore, Steve Lombardozzi, Roger Bernadina and Chad Tracy all have performed worse than last season as more was expected of them this season. With Bryce Harper, Jayson Werth and Ryan Zimmerman spending time on the D.L., where Danny Espinosa should have been with them, the bench was pressed into more duty than expected and failed to live up to expectations.

Now that the Nats are finally healthy — and not surprisingly, hitting — manager Davey Johnson can go back to picking-and-choosing when to get at bats for his bench players, utilizing the numbers to get favorable matchups instead of having to rely on these lesser players in a full-time role.

There’s absolutely no shame in being a Major League bench player. Scott Hairston has made a career of it. But pressing bench players into an every day role is problematic, especially for a team that had expectations of contending for the World Series.

Washington Nationals acquire outfielder Scott Hairston

The Washington Nationals have acquired outfielder Scott Hairston from the Chicago Cubs, according to an ESPNChicago report issued earlier today.

The Cubs will reportedly receive minor-league pitcher Ivan Pineyro in return for the 10-year veteran, who is batting just .163 with eight home runs and 19 RBIs in 111 plate appearances this season. The 33-year-old outfielder carries with him a career .244/.299/.447 and can hit well against southpaws. While his overall stat line falls short of impressive, the Nationals are in need of some potency off the bench and they, no doubt, have turned to Hairston to provide just that at little cost.

Hairston’s contract runs through 2014.

Pineyro, a 21-year-old right-hander in his third season with the Nationals’ farm system, recorded a 3.86 ERA in his two starts – 11.2 total innings pitched – with High-A Potomac. His combined Rookie, Short-Season, Low-A and High-A ERA is 3.17 in 204.1 total innings pitched in the Minors, dating back to 2011.

He was ranked the Nationals No. 27 prospect after the 2012 season.

NHL Free Agency: Washington Capitals leaving dance card open as veterans depart

Friday is the first day NHL GMs can start signing free agents, and the Washington Capitals have already seen three of their prominent free agents take employment elsewhere.

Mike Ribeiro, the long-awaited No. 2 center, signed a four-year deal with the Arizona (nee Phoenix) Coyotes and fan favorite winger Matt Hendricks got his own four-year deal with the Nashville Predators. D Jeff Schultz, who was waived earlier in the week, signed a one-year deal for $700,000.

Good for all, bad for the Caps.

Hendricks’ deal with Nashville will pay him $7.4M over the length of the contract ($1.85M per annum), while Ribeiro will make $22M on his contract, a $5.5M cap hit each season.

The Caps simply could not afford either player for their market value.

It leaves George McPhee in an interesting place, especially with his team poised to join a more competitive division next season. The team is still negotiating with RFA Karl Alzner, but sources indicate that negotiation could end up in arbitration.

One the Caps spots that could use bolstering is another top defensive contributor on their blue line to push John Erskine into more of a third pairing/situational seventh defenseman spot. They do have several youngsters that will compete for playing time on the back end, but most are the puck-moving variety.

Up front, Ribeiro’s exit once again creates a gaping hole at 2C.

The Caps expect Brooks Laich to enter camp completely healthy, but he’s much more suited to wing on the second line or center on the third line. His versatility is one thing the Caps really like about Laich, but he’s just not offensively gifted enough to be counted on as a playmaker on a scoring line, such as Ribeiro was. The Caps once hoped Marcus Johansson would be that player, but his ineffectiveness in the face-off circle and lack of presence on the defensive end makes him more suited to play wing, which we saw him do primarily last season.

To make matters worse, unlike with the defenseman, there are no prospects waiting in the wings to push veterans for playing time at center within the organization.

Many expected (hoped) the Caps would re-sign Ribeiro, eliminating the need to look outside the organization for that 2C as they have so often in the past. Now that Ribeiro has moved on to greener pastures officially, the Caps hand is finally forced. But among the free agent candidates, there are no logical solutions. The only player on the market that really suited their needs at the position is the one that just left.

The Caps will probably have Martin Erat skate with Nick Backstrom and Alex Ovechkin on the top line next season. If the Caps don’t make a push and sign a free agent –or make a trade — to bolster that second line, it will be formed from a mish-mash of Troy Brouwer, Brooks Laich, Eric Fehr, Jason Chimera, Marcus Johansson and Mattieu Perreault, with the leftovers joining the third line with Joel Ward. Two-thirds of the the fourth line looks pretty set with Jay Beagle and Aaron Volpatti.

A third line of Brooks Laich centering Chimera and Ward is a line with a purpose — defensively responsible with speed on a wing, with two of the three also poised for lots of penalty kill time.

But unless the Caps are willing to get creative and make some deals, they won’t have that luxury. With the road to the playoffs that much more congested, it’s a bad time for the roster to be in such a state of flux.

Washington Nationals officially activate from DL, then demote Danny Espinosa

The Washington Nationals Wednesday officially activated 2B Danny Espinosa from the disabled list, then optioned him to AAA-Syracuse. Espinosa was in Syracuse already on a rehab assignment after he was placed on the Major League disabled list with a fracture in his right wrist. In 20 at bats so far for Syracuse, Espinosa is 2-for-20 with 13 strikeouts.

Espinosa injured his shoulder late in 2012, which he revealed in spring training this season to be a partially torn rotator cuff. In April, he was hit by a Paul Maholm fastball in the right wrist, and initially took a couple days off to allow the swelling to go down. Initial X-rays did not show a break, but after two months of utter futility at the plate (.158/.193/.272 in 167 plate appearances) the team re-examined his right and found a fracture and bone chips.

Espinosa took a week off, then began a rehab assignment in Syracuse, but thus far hasn’t been any better there than he was for the Nats this season.

Washington Nationals make roster changes before series with Mets

Sitting with a record below .500 after Memorial Day is no way for a World Series hopeful to conduct business.

Tuesday, before their game against the New York Mets, The Washington Nationals placed second baseman Danny Espinosa on the 15-day D.L. with a broken right wrist, recalled infielder Anthony Rendon, and designated Henry Rodriguez and Zach Duke for assignment. In addition, the team called up LHP Ian Krol, who was acquired in the off-season trade of Michael Morse.

Saying Espinosa has struggled this season is a gross understatement. The 26-year-old was hitting .158/.193/.272 at the time of his disabling with just three homers and 12 RBIs this season. He had struck out 47 times and walked just four times. He injured his left shoulder last August and later was diagnosed with a partially torn rotator cuff. In April of this year, he was hit with a Paul Maholm fastball and was later diagnoses with a fracture and bone chips in his right wrist.

According to reports in the clubhouse, Espinosa cleared his locker out. It’s not usual protocol for a player on the 15-day D.L. to clear out his locker.

Rendon starts his second stint with the team. He was recently promoted to AAA and got three games in for Syracuse before being recalled. He played all three games at second base. Rendon hit .307/.452/.575 between Harrisburg and Syracuse this season.

Rodriguez, the 100-MPH fireballing reliever, owned a 4.00 ERA and 1.667 WHIP at the time of his release. Always one to have trouble with his control, he was walking a whopping 8.0 per nine innings while his usually stellar K/9 was down to 5.5.

Duke was 1-1 with a 8.71 ERA and 1.887 WHIP in 12 games, including one start.

Krol. a 22-year-old left-handed reliever, had a 0.69 ERA, 0.8080 WHIP and 10.0 K/p in AA-Harrisburg and has never pitched above Double-A.

 

Washington Nationals designate Maya for assignment, call up Kobernus

With Danny Espinosa out for at least a few days, and potentially much more, the Washington Nationals called up UTL Jeff Kobernus from AAA-Syracuse after Friday’s win over the Philadelphia Phillies. To make room on the 40-man roster, the team designated for assignment RHP Yunesky Maya, who pitched one-third of an inning in Tuesday’s loss to the San Francisco Giants, serving up Pablo Sandoval’s massive two-run home run in the bottom of the tenth inning.

The right-handed hitting Kobernus, 25 in June, hit .333/.378/.420 in 193 plate appearances for Syracuse so far this season. He’s stolen 21 bases in 27 attempts this year. Last season for Harrisburg, Kobernus swiped 42 bases and 53 the previous year for Potomac in High-A.

Primarily a second baseman coming up through the system, Kobernus was a Rule 5 draft selection by the Detroit Tigers this past off-season and had him working in the outfield to take advantage of his natural speed. The Tigers decided to offer him back to the Nats, and they’ve kept up the experiment. He’s played 19 games for the Chiefs in left field, nine in center, 12 at second base and three games at third this season.

The Nats have decided for now that Steve Lombardozzi will get the bulk of the at bats while Espinosa tried to get the lingering soreness out of the break area in his right wrist, but Kobernus will give the team some flexibility to play second base and left field if needed.

Maya, 31, signed a four-year, $6 million contract in 2010, after he defected from Cuba and established residence in the Dominican Republic. The right-hander never lived up to the contract, floundering every time he’s been given a shot at the Major league level and only posting pedestrian numbers in AAA. In his big league career, Maya is 1-5 with a 5.80 ERA and 1.576 WHIP in 16 games (10 starts). Maya was 1-4 with a 5.07 ERA for Syracuse this season.

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